Lucy Jensen

The masks are coming off people; and what is apparent is what is underneath isn’t always that pretty. No one has been to the dentist in forever, beards are growing on the women and, even sadder, people have been hiding behind their masks for too long and have forgotten that no one ever forgets how you make them feel.

I try to shop local where I can — I support the local feed and grocery store, the regional wineries and restaurants. I prefer to spend my dollars in our small towns to help prop up the small business and keep the hands feeding the hands.

I entered a restaurant in Gonzales where, formerly, I had enjoyed good food and nice service. As I entered to pick up $78 in takeout orders, the women yelled at me to stay by the door. “We have our kids in here,” she said in a loud and unfriendly tone. “I am just here to pick up my food,” I responded, jumping back through the doorway. “I’m fully masked, also fully vaccinated.” I felt as if I needed to defend my position on her doorstep as a customer in her business.

I left feeling very badly treated. I told my husband and he informed me that we would not be frequenting that establishment again. There are plenty of others to choose from. She had made me and my money feel less than welcome.

As the world opens up, remind your staff who the customers are and how important it is to make them feel welcome, so they will want to come back. It is a simple concept that seems to have slipped away in some places. I understand that the restaurant industry had it very badly at the beginning of the pandemic and until very recently with the close-open-close-half-open tap-dancing they had to do; but now they are allowed to properly open.

Do it right and welcome your customers back. Some may be feeling a little anxious about going out-out again after so long at home. You might need to guide them through the experience as if they have never done it before. Most of us have got used to cooking at home and not eating out on a regular basis. You should keep that in mind.

As a splendid antidote to that Gonzales experience, we visited a lovely Mexican restaurant in Greenfield and were greeted like old friends. Now that is how you want to feel when you are going out. We will definitely return to that place and take our friends.

The pandemic has certainly made monkeys out of us as far as manners go, in more ways than one. We used to practice the professional handshake on most occasions, especially in the work sector. We would hug friends and shake strangers’ hands. Now we do neither and the world is talking about reintroducing those practices into normal behavior. I’m not sure how that is going to work. I’m OK with a nod and verbal greeting to a stranger; I’ve got used to it. The awkward half wave is also a popular feature in post-Covid greetings, and I don’t mind that either.

Whether or not masks are being forgiven, in public places I shall continue to wear mine, as I have become so accustomed to the anonymity and I love the fact I have not had even the common cold in 18 months. I also believe there is a lot of that Covid stuff still around. “You don’t have to wear a mask if you have been fully vaccinated!” they tout.

Wait. How do we know who has and has not been vaccinated? Can we please get a blue dot on the forehead for the conformists, or at least some kind of vaccine passport that the Europeans are working on to prove we are a little safer to be around than the non-vaccinated? To trust people’s word in this matter is ludicrous; and I for one would not put myself and my family in that kind of danger.

Movie theaters are opening, as are live concert venues and art galleries. Sports are coming back, and the kids going back to school. This is almost like a new world and we are visitors on our own stage. How is the snack thing going to work at the movie theater? Slip a few popcorn kernels behind your mask and poke the drink straw through the side? Skip the snacks completely and do the theaters out of a boatload of money?

I recently traveled to and from Vegas on an airplane — my first air trip in several months. “Anyone who is not OK wearing a mask for the duration of this flight should now leave the plane,” the air hostess tells us. Oh good. Never mind that the flight was jam-packed with not much social distancing to be found anywhere in that squeezed capsule. All the passengers complied with the mask regulations and I noticed few ate or drank a thing for the duration. That might be a little different on a long haul; but I think these are good habits to move forward with. Be cautious in public and don’t start loving on complete strangers any time soon, if ever.

I recall, with some amusement, my sister coming over to America a few years ago, where she encountered some of my husband’s family. Some had maybe met her one time at our wedding many years ago. Regardless, they all wanted to hug her. “Why does everyone want to hug me?” she asked. “They don’t even know me.” And, looking back, I think that was a valid point.

When did we start imagining that we should embrace total strangers; that the appropriate greeting, when paths crossed, would be to hug it out? I think that should be reserved for close friends and fond family members without exception. I shall endeavor to follow that dynamic through this pandemic and out the other side. It makes good sense to me.

Ah, the masks are coming off people and we don’t really know how to move forward in life without them. Some of us are already digging our heels in and saying we don’t want to move on without them and think it’s too soon for others to discard theirs. However, we are not the experts nor the scientists and there is a huge push to try and move toward normality in the world. I get it. I also love the freedom of choice that says, you certainly don’t have to have the vaccine if you don’t want to; but nor should you have the access to the passport of freedom to move around the world.

By all means exercise your rights and stay home, while the rest of us are able to canter happily toward life and adventure again. I, for one, cannot wait to be issued my vaccine passport, so I can exercise my rights to move freely through the world once again.

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Soledad columnist Lucy Jensen may be reached at [email protected].


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